Beverly Godfrey column: Sharing food — for the win
You know you’ve just won the potluck if you come home with an empty crockpot.
It wasn’t exactly homemade, being mostly from the Sam’s Club frozen meals aisle, but I added eggs from my own chickens when I fried it up. It made me recall the term “value added,” something I think I learned in a college economics class. You could use the term talking about tax reform and tariffs, or you could say my store-bought fried rice was value-added because I made it seem at least a little bit homemade with the eggs.
I used to work harder at potluck food. I once made individual quiches in a muffin pan, with homemade pie dough. Another time, I invented a vegan dish of lentils, onions and quinoa because I knew people at the potluck included those who did not eat meat, gluten or dairy. Nowadays, I might just volunteer to bring a gallon of apple cider to that one.
Falling off the homemade wagon, I brought Hardee’s fried chicken to a potluck. The meal was attended mostly by very health-conscious moms who made things such as pickled beets with goat cheese. The fried chicken proved popular with husbands, I noticed. It’s all about balance, you could say.
I remember a potluck that had about 10 variations of wild rice hotdish. That’s where the competition really heats up, comparing dishes that are basically the same. The one that wins my vote will have slivered almonds or dried cranberries in it, one of those expensive ingredients the cook could have left out but didn’t. I notice these things because I usually don’t go that extra, award-winning step. Do I want to spend an extra $3 to add nuts to this rhubarb cake? Given the right moment, I can be a real cheapskate, so, no.
When I was about 14, I went to an event with my dad’s co-workers, and someone shared a fishy-smelling dish with tentacles in it. Squid, maybe? Octopus? Must I call it calamari? I think it was raw, and as much as I’d like to tell a story that I was bold and worldly and hip to other cultures, I only felt scared I would be expected to eat some. Thankfully, my mother whispered to me that it was a crazy thing to bring to a potluck. Perhaps other people loved the chance to try something so authentic and different, but I was happy someone was on my side.
I and my nighttime co-workers on the News Tribune copy desk like to think we have the best potlucks. Our former boss once observed that being together at dinner time makes you feel more like a family. We’re not spending our lunch breaks at dentist appointments or getting our oil changed, and many of us eat at our desks because there isn’t anyplace to go, and we’re constantly on a deadline.
Potluck performance hasn’t made it onto our work evaluations yet, but I think we’d be doing pretty well if it did. One co-worker is known for her cookie salad, which is just as unsalady as it sounds. One charmed us with his mom’s Christmas cookies — until he moved to the sports desk, thanks a lot. Another cooked a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, and even though it was years ago, it still rises to the top of potluck lore.
My daughter and her friends at school just ended their year with a potluck lunch — this is Minnesota, after all. It’s nice to see that even in middle school, the camaraderie of sharing food isn’t lost. What a rite of passage, too; instead of saying, “Mom, I need to bring something to the potluck,” she baked brownies all by herself — homemade, even, no boxed mixes here. Clearly, she’s at the start of whatever path I’ve traveled that took me from totally homemade stuff to fast-food chicken and value-added fried rice.
Nevertheless, my crockpot came home empty, and ultimately, that is all that matters.
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.